- Fri, 2010-10-22 15:33
Signed to Big Dada, the hip hop imprint of independent, legendary London label Ninja Tune, Offshore has just released the Aneurysm EP. Creating sparse sonic rumblings by night and working as one half of design duo Oscar & Ewan by day, I Like Music caught up with Offshore for a chat about his current interest in the balance between simplicity and melody, a formulaic approach to design work and getting set to play a string of sets across Europe.
"I Like Music because… it’s constantly expanding. It’s constantly intriguing.” Offshore
ILM: You have a bunch of really cool sets coming up; Paris, Amsterdam, London, Belgium...What can people expect if the come to see you?
Offshore: I play bits and bobs of my own stuff. I try and keep it quite broad, I don’t play a whole set of one sound, I try and vary the tempo.
ILM: Will you have the time to look around the cities?
Offshore: Paris I don't think so, it's a case of land, play then leave! Although I think there'll be a bit more time in Amsterdam...hopefully. Depends whether we're getting the train or not.
ILM: What do you look forward to the most about playing out?
Offshore: Over the past few gigs I've done I've got a lot of good feedback. I played at the Roots Manuva dub college night and that was good, I got a good reception there. Then Aberdeen, it was cool to see all the people that came out to that show to support me. That was great. Hopefully that will continue!
ILM: Where do you make your music?
Offshore: At home. I keep it really simple. So laptop, headphones, monitors. I don't have any keyboards, I tend to just keep it all inside. I play guitar and bass in another band. We have a studio space that we rehearse in every week. With that we're arranging in a live-band sense, and I think that helps me arrange my own stuff.
ILM: It must be refreshing to have those two outputs?
Offshore: The singer writes the songs, then we develop them as a band, the development is focused on what the singer wants for the songs, so its not an outlet for what I want to do personally necessarily, but I really enjoy the playing.
ILM: What software do you use?
Offshore: I use Logic. I just got Ableton recently...
ILM: Do you like it?
Offshore: Er yeah, I don't know if I'll use it to make tunes with, but to play tunes on the fly it's good. Then I've got some simple soft synths, a little drum plugin called Guru. I don't spend a huge amount of time getting to the bottom of everything I use and could use, I keep it simple.
ILM: How would you describe your process of making a track, from initial idea to final tune?
Offshore: I usually just play around with beats and melodies, get loads of little sketches then go back, pick one and take it further. At the moment I'm probably taking longer than usual. I'll be out somewhere, on the bus or something, and I'll go through it in my head and think of other bits that I need to add or take away, usually I'm taking away, to let it just sit.
ILM: How do you push yourself to evolve, to explore new territories?
Offshore: It kind of feels quite natural. I'm always listening to new stuff and getting a lot of ideas. I suppose it's about approaching those in different ways. At the moment I'm trying to keep it minimal, trying to make things that are catchy but quite raw. Trying to refrain from putting too much jazz across a song...not actual jazz...just...mess. I want to simplify things, to get down to the essence and concentrate on strong melodies.
ILM: Do you find yourself taking a lot away from original ideas?
Offshore: Yeah, kind of. At the moment anyway. I've been listening to a lot of Timbaland. It seems like there's a formula to quite a lot of it...it's very effective. I've always listened to stuff that's less dancey really, but yeah, changing my influences helps...
ILM: What can we expect from the Aneurysm EP? What stage in your music does that represent?
Offshore: Quite minimal and understated. What do you think of it?
ILM: Really liked it. When I heard it on a sound system that made all the difference. And you’re right, it is really sparse, but there’s a lot there to carry you through, particularly the bass. I can see you producing hip hop...is production or vocal collaboration in the pipe-line?
Offshore: Kind of. I used to work with a friend on vocals all the time and I've worked with some MCs. Last night I was going over some old acapellas and trying to make something out of them. I want to start collaborating a bit more, see what can be done.
ILM: Who are some of your longest standing musical inspirations?
Offshore: Aphex Twin always totally blows my mind. I suppose there's been different periods where things have really got me, Wu Tang and when I heard 36 Chambers for the first time, Madlib at a point. Recently I've been listening to a lot of classic albums including The Beatles, which is just, well...when it comes to thoughts on melody...
ILM: You moved from Aberdeen to London six years ago, did that have an affect on your music?
Offshore: Massively. In Aberdeen there was stuff going on, but not nights to go to that were that influential or that current. It was more personal, it was about what you were listening to by yourself. I don't go out that much, but there's been a few things from the London grime scene that have had a huge impact on me. I interned at Big Dada years ago and there was a lot of grime playing when I was in there, and Big Dada stuff generally. It's shaped my music a lot.
ILM: You work as a designer too, with Oscar as Oscar & Ewan, is that daily?
Offshore: Yeah. I'm kind of moonlighting to be honest. I do design all day, music all night...wake up late, more design...I've got to work out a balance there I think. I have this duel lifestyle...
ILM: You designed the cover of Jammer’s album Jahmanji...which features a rather large elephant.
Offshore: Yeah, haha! That was done at the Luton site of London Zoo. He knew his title was going to be Jahmanji. He wanted loads of animals everywhere but we just said let's just do it with one real elephant. Then it was a case of making it work!
ILM: And Bonobo's Black Sands cover as well?
Offshore: Yeah, yeah. That one has gone well, I think he's had some really good feedback. That was a good project for us, a fun cover. It was a little more refined than other covers we've done.
ILM: Is there ever a cross pollination of inspirations from design through to music?
Offshore: I think of them separately. Design is quite cold. I have to find a way of working, it's quite rigid, well, not rigid but it's thought out. We have a set process. I think of music as freeform and personal, more expressive. There's rules that we follow in design. I don't think I have that in music, but maybe I do, there are ways I approach things, using certain sounds, but the outcome is not as certain...
ILM: The video for Jen At The Station is great, did you make it?
Offshore: It’s not meant to be a video video. It’s just some footage. I thought those things were fun! I found that footage and had to use it somewhere.
ILM: What are your plans with video and music?
Offshore: I think video is really important, it can make a great impact. A vocalist makes things more direct. I think with instrumental music it can be interpreted in so many ways, things can be really ambiguous, with video you can sort of direct how people respond to it. Oscar and I have some ideas...I think that'll be something I'll do soon.
ILM: In terms of directing a response, how does that apply to your music? Do you set out to evoke a certain feeling, to direct a type of emotional response?
Offshore: I don't think like that. I suppose that's the two sides of the designer and the musician. I am just thinking about my response when I'm making music. Then there's trying to get it so it will come across how you intend it and hopefully other people will feel it too. When I think back to stuff I made when I was sixteen...terrible, terrible things! At the time I thought they were good, but i think for anyone else it would have taken a lot of listening to get anything out of it.
ILM: Do you still have it?
Offshore: No my computer crashed. I want to bring it back to life actually, see what's on there. I can still remember a few of the tunes. I suppose I want my stuff now to be reputable, for people to get something out of it.
ILM: How does it feel to be part of Big Dada?
Offshore: It's amazing. Really amazing. I remember finding out about this label called Ninja Tune when I was younger then collecting so much of their stuff. To think that I'm part of that after so many years, yeah...it's just unreal. Just to get to Ninja XX and see myself on the first CD! I've been a big fan of Big Dada for ages, a lot of the people who have released on the label are big influences, Roots Manuva, Infinite Livez, Wiley TTC...
ILM: So it was an easy decision to go with them?
Offshore: At first I wondered whether I should, because I know them. But when they heard my stuff and reacted so well to it, it just seemed like the right decision.
ILM: Do you have a debut album on the way?
Offshore: I'm not sure whether I'm going to do an album or a string of EP releases. Depends on...I kinda like the EP thing. It's quicker rather than an album, feels a bit more off the cuff. We'll see how it goes.
ILM: What are your future plans?
Offshore: I want to keep playing different places, and look back in thirty years and have a string of releases out and stuff to be proud of. But really, it's more just about focusing on writing songs at the moment. As long as the ideas and the day to day stuff is cool, then it should be alright. I'll just keep going...
Find out more about Offshore on www.bigdada.com